Czech government seeks to keep economy running as COVID-19 cases rise

FILE PHOTO: Passengers wearing protective masks walk through the train transfer tunnel at Prague's main railway station, after the Czech government banned all passengers without face protection from public transport to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Czech Republic, September 1, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic is aiming to avoid imposing strict limitations on public life and business to spare its economy another shock, a government official said on Tuesday, despite a jump in the number of coronavirus cases.

The Czech Republic acted quickly to shut schools and retail businesses when the pandemic began, and also limited travel and ordered mask wearing, helping keep the death toll lower than in many other European countries.

It was also quick to relax restrictions, and the number of coronavirus cases has risen since the summer months. World Health Organization data showed new cases soared by 55% in the Czech Republic in the week to Monday versus the previous 7-day period.

“We are not preparing a lockdown, the hard restrictive measures that would fundamentally limit the economy, tourism and so on,” Deputy Prime Minister Karel Havlicek said. “We are not underestimating the situation, we are acting locally.”

The Czech economy contracted by 11.0% year-on-year in the second quarter.

The number of daily coronavirus infections reported rose as high as 797 last week, compared to a peak of 377 in March. The country of 10.7 million has reported a death toll of 440 from 29,368 cases.

Prime Minster Andrej Babis has said tracing may be narrowed nationwide to contacts of people who show more serious symptoms, but the WHO’s local office said tracing should be scaled up.

Babis reacted on Twitter by saying the WHO should “keep quiet” because it had been slow to recognise the pandemic.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka, Editing by Timothy Heritage